Doing your first school workshop is a scary business, as back in the UK taking workshops into schools is tricky, surrounded by red tape, and the children are sometimes difficult to engage. We expected our classes to be so much harder than they actually were but after an informal meeting with the headmasters we were in. We prepared skits, games, and talks to give the children, recording the session with worksheets about their dream jobs.
Our first workshop was in Vallipattu village, and we went in unprepared of the differences to our schools back home. The classrooms were poorly ventilated concrete blocks without seats or tables. Classic chalk boards sat at the front of the class and examinations were being held outside on the dirt. The students sat in the blazing sun in rows about three feet apart (I remember when our class was complaining about the week long delay in getting our interactive whiteboard fixed).
This was a government school and the headmaster made no attempt to deny that the students sometimes struggled. He expressed that livelihoods was no great decision to the children but a means of survival, and therefore expected a purely economic outcome. Despite the difficulties faced this was a proud man of a good school with excellent results in traditional subjects.
But the students weren’t particularly money hungry. The majority of girls wanted to be teachers whilst the boys wanted to be in the army. When asked why they wanted their dream jobs the majority of both genders mentioned their community. Teachers wanted to help poorer students into school, doctors wanted to provide free local healthcare, politicians wanted to improve access to safe water, and police officers wanted to protect their community.
It was absolutely survival on the minds of these children, but not their survival, the survival of the people they grew up with.
To improve our second workshop we gave more information about career paths and entry requirements. Looking at the faces of Alangayam’s School for Girls 9th standard all you could see was intent focus, each so eager to chart their futures.
There is no career guidance in the school curriculum here and many students thought that their futures were influenced most by their parents. Perhaps with more voluntary classes on careers we can break the cycle of social class reproduction and children can learn how to make their dreams a reality.